February 2, 2023

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Meteor Shower: Shooting stars from Gemini cross the Earth

Status: 12/13/2022 6:25 PM

The Geminids’ annual meteor shower is approaching — on Wednesday afternoon, the sky’s spectacle will peak with up to 150 stars per hour.

Written by Uwe Gradwohl and Leila Boucheligua, SWR

Every December, the Geminids are the most powerful stream of shooting stars to hit Earth. The peak of the meteor shower this year is expected to be on December 14 at around 2 pm – thus in the middle of the day. According to the Society of Friends of the Stars, up to 150 meteors per hour can be observed during this period and thereafter in the dark and in fine weather.

The dark spot of observation is important

This year, unfortunately, it is not possible to observe the Geminid meteor showers at their peak in Europe. But the night before—December 13-14—and the night after—December 14-15—one can still hope for 30 to 60 items burning per hour in the night sky. These may also include particularly bright objects. The best time to observe is on December 14th from sunset to moonrise, as moonlight cannot interfere with this.

The location of the dark watch is particularly important because the Geminids dive into Earth’s atmosphere very slowly for shooting star conditions, and so do not trail long traces of light behind them, but only blink briefly.

From around the year 2100, the Geminid show is gone forever

Anyone who has not been able to see shooting stars due to closed cloud cover will still have the opportunity to do so in the decades to come. Throughout the 21st century, Gemini are said to make regular visits to Earth.

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Finally, around the year 2100, the cosmic dust cloud from which the shooting stars originated will no longer cross Earth’s orbit. With that, Geminid’s show will end forever.

The Geminids’ source was not clear for a long time

Falling stars are usually small particles that are blown out of loosely structured comets. Only with the Geminids, a “collapsing” comet of shooting stars cannot be found. For more than 100 years, astronomers have searched in vain for the source of shooting stars.

Astronomers first saw Gemini in December 1862. Suddenly appearing stars, which had never happened before at this time, became more numerous from year to year. Since orbiters have always been seen in the constellation Gemini, Gemini was named after the Latin name for Gemini, Gemini.

In 1983, American astronomers finally noticed a piece of space that was traveling along the same path as the Geminids: an asteroid called Phaeton. However, this asteroid cannot be the source of Geminid’s crumbling nose, because unlike comets, asteroids don’t usually follow a dust tail behind them.

Asteroid dust tails through a hot ice sheet

However, the asteroid in space gets so close to the Sun every year and a half that its surface becomes several hundred degrees hotter. Researchers at the German Aerospace Center’s Institute for Planetary Research now hypothesize that rocks collapse into small grains and dust on their surface under this thermal stress.

In addition, according to the researchers, the asteroid has an ancient ice layer under its dusty surface, and is therefore an insulator. This ice is supposed to turn into gas near the Sun, thus breaking through the dust layer in batches and taking rock fragments with it into space. This explains the tail of dust particles that can be observed at regular intervals at the point closest to the sun on the asteroid Phaeton.

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Earth flies through this dust pillar once a year – always in mid-December. In doing so, it collects dust particles, which accelerate through the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 35 kilometers per second and compress the air in front of them so much that it glows brightly.